Cheap Attribution Tools Jeopardize Media Efficiency — Penny-Wise and Pound-Foolish

Our competitors, because of the absence of compelling measurement features and a full stack offering, are competing on price alone. They are unashamed in their attempt to commoditize their own business. They’ve raised large sums of money to subsidize the infrastructure cost, and they deliver a second-rate service all under the premise that the opportunity to win in the attribution game is a “land grab” to get developers to integrate their SDK. They augment this effort with a marketing message that attempts to pacify the industry with the belief that there are no special secrets behind attribution.

I disagree.

This trend started a couple years ago and really took shape in 2016. The reason? I believe it’s multi-faceted:

  • Mobile is new
  • Lots of new mobile-first marketers are coming online quickly
  • Lots of traditional display marketers are crossing over to mobile quickly
  • Measurement from display doesn’t work on mobile — mobile specific attribution tools are needed — which means the traditional tools selected by the group above don’t apply
  • Few marketers have the budget to advertise at scale or they aren’t familiar with mature tools for mobile attribution and analytics
  • Many marketers want to get started with something (anything) so they can learn

These factors have created a petri dish of chemistry in the market, enabling vendors with limited functionality to provide a cheap solution and find success along the way. If you look a bit deeper, there is a ceiling of capabilities that limit the marketer’s capacity to do what they were sold on in the first place — accurate media attribution and audience measurement.

The “New-to-Mobile” Dilemma

Every mobile marketer I know started by doing something other than mobile marketing. Everyone had to learn the dynamics of how mobile is unique, what the difference is between incent and non-incent traffic, the notion of re-brokering or the value of analysis by site or subsite identifier. The point is: There is an overwhelming amount of information a marketer new to the industry needs to learn and experience. They haven’t endured the pain and haven’t learned through maturity about what is needed to achieve success. Meanwhile, the marketers who have topped the charts over the last two years have perfected their craft, and they have maintained their position for a reason. What is a new marketer to do?

Everyone says that step 1 is finding an attribution partner. I agree — but the difference maker is in finding the right attribution partner.

For a new marketer, the qualifying questions to select an attribution partner are:

  • Do the tools attribute by media source?
  • Can I see a report?
  • Does it work on the media sources I buy from?
  • What does it cost/how is it priced?

These questions set a low bar and yet, you see how price wins out when the requirements are so limited.

For an increasingly progressive mobile marketer, the questions start to accumulate:

  • Can I track post-install events? (needed to understand LTV)
  • Revenue events? Ad revenue and in-app purchase revenue?
  • Can I support re-engagement campaigns? (needed to understand how to re-activate dormant audiences)
  • Can I ingest media cost data? (needed to understand ROI)
  • Can I syndicate data to other tools? (needed to operationally manage campaigns at scale and understand patterns and relationships)

For every question, there is a pain associated with it. The customer (or their team) has experienced pain from lack of insight, understanding, and/or the ability to scale based on the absence of signals that matter to them.

Here is when feature comparison charts start to do a disservice to a new mobile marketer. For them, the desire is to have a clear-cut summary on what is important, what is not and then stack-rank on price. A typical feature comparison from any of our competitors attempts to include the above features in a limited capacity — and highlight that all vendors are generally comparable with price as the deciding factor. The reality is that these features are table stakes.

Of course, no one wants to spend more than they have to on anything (including measurement)! What is not clear to the new mobile marketer is that by stack-ranking on price, they are about to make the most costly mistake in their mobile marketing endeavor. Attribution and measurement costs pale in comparison to media costs when it is measured inaccurately or the system lacks key signals for measurement and optimization. Further, the lack of features for planning, targeting and activation limit the marketer in how they can scale their efforts.

Kochava provides the table stakes mentioned above — but also enables growth beyond the basics. The following are just a few examples:

  • Traffic Verification is real-time verification that traffic meets the qualities and characteristics outlined by an IO. If you decide to pay a premium for iPhone 7+ devices, do you have a mechanism in your measurement tool to verify this in real-time and stop the attribution waterfall from triggering if all criteria isn’t met?
  • Global Fraud Blacklist is real-time fraud monitoring and abatement to stop media fraud and potential attribution fraud. This blacklist is algorithmically maintained at a system-level across Kochava, observing patterns of fraudsters across accounts. When sites, device identifiers or IPs are used in fraudulent behavior, it is on the blacklist and your traffic is automatically pre-screened when using this capability. Do you have a real-time fraud abatement strategy across all of your media buys?
  • Configurable Attribution are configurable lookback windows supported at the media source level with granular control of lookback settings by fingerprint attribution vs. device ID attribution — separately for view-through and click-through.
  • Configurable attribution overrides further modifying lookback windows at the tracker level to separate incent vs. non-incent or to qualify higher-intent audiences with tighter attribution windows and larger payouts. The configurable attribution waterfall enables customers to change the way it works in Kochava for your conversion windows. It will match the intent of your IOs.
  • Fractional attribution enables fractional credit to various assist/influencer clicks or views along the conversion funnel.

If confronted with all of the knobs and switches that any marketer should worry about having in their measurement tool — a new mobile marketer will think that the tool providing such capabilities is complicated and overly complex. Mobile is not a black box, and marketers must have key features to measure and control the signals of the user acquisition funnel in order to apply their media dollars efficiently. Without the right tools, the marketer is being penny-wise and pound foolish. Before you take my word for it, let me outline a few examples of what marketers confront on a daily basis when they don’t use Kochava tools:

  • Organic users sniped by paid media sources. Marketers are paying media sources for users that were organically installing their app. In the world of mobile fraud, 50% of the fraud is related to media and 50% is related to attribution fraud where sub-publishers game the attribution tools to get credit for organic installs of their app. Was it worth paying $2 per install for 20K organic installs this month because you selected a cheap attribution tool?
  • Quality media sources don’t receive credit for the traffic they drive. This de-prioritizes a marketer’s campaigns over others that use measurement tools with the ability to discern and optimize for the traffic most valuable to them. When your trusted sources deliver but aren’t attributed, you get less access to the traffic you seek to grow. Was it worth losing access to premium traffic (despite having the budget to spend on it) because you selected a cheap attribution tool?
  • Composite media strategies (buying from various sources against the same audience to reach them at various times in the funnel) are not possible because you can’t measure or discern the signals and pay the right vendors for the value they are delivering in a multi-touch world. On average, Kochava marketers see over six touch points across different media sources prior to the last click. What’s the relationship between an influencer click vs. the last click? Is it worth not knowing and hoping for the best by selecting the cheap attribution tool?

Fee-Based Conflict of Interest

The cheap attribution tools out there charge on a per attributed install basis. This, at face value, appears as a good deal. It caters to the performance marketer in all of us. The vendor doesn’t get paid unless an attribution is made. We have heard these vendors evangelize that Kochava rips off customers because we charge for impressions, clicks and post-install events. In contrast, they claim to only charge per attribution so they are only being paid when they do their job. Here is the problem with that logic. They are essentially saying that:

  • The signals in the funnel don’t matter
  • The attribution is the chargeable event (at pennies, not fractions of a penny)
  • They are motivated to make as many attributions as possible — irrespective of configurable rules that you may have in place in order to manage your media mix

The last point drives home the difference between Kochava and the competition. Wonder why these other cheaper vendors don’t give the kind of granular control over your media attribution logic? It’s because they don’t get paid. Wonder why they re-attribute previously attributed installs after their retention window (typically 90 days)? It’s because they get to charge for the attribution repeatedly.

The Industry is Maturing

This past week, MediaPost summarized a survey done by AdRoll based on a State of the Industry report. Of note in the survey, 60% of the respondents plan to change their attribution strategy in 2017 from a traditional first- or last-click model. The cheap attribution tools are not only ill-equipped to handle such a feature (Kochava is the only one that supports this today) — their business models are in direct opposition to the approach.

We are already seeing the maturation happen. It’s now a question of how quickly. In a recent post on LinkedIn by Kabeer Chaudhary, Director of M&C Saatchi Mobile APAC, he rebukes a vendor who has created a performance leaderboard by media source without taking into account the impact of fraud in the rankings. This is a distinction that Kochava makes for its customers. A leader of a major mobile agency actively highlighting this problem in public is a clear indication that the industry is undergoing change.

Avoiding/Reducing Switching Costs

Recently, as more marketers switch to Kochava from other vendors, we learned that one competing attribution tool charges a large fee to pull data out of the toolset to migrate to Kochava (a marketer would do this to avoid double attribution upon conversion to Kochava). To avoid churn, this vendor intentionally makes it difficult for customers to leave via limited tools and new surcharges. A marketer makes an investment when they wire their infrastructure around a measurement platform. How well do you trust a cheaper vendor who knows that they can make you dependent and holds you hostage if you want to leave?

This is the fundamental behavior of the companies who are, as a business strategy, raising money to subsidize the distribution of their SDK and actively convincing marketers to become dependent on their infrastructure only to change the total cost of ownership (TCO) equation over time.

Consider this when thinking about what provides real TCO vs cheap attribution at face-value.

1% Challenge: The Equation to Media Measurement Efficiency

We have been talking about our 1% challenge for the past several years but recently it has been receiving more attention. The reason is that enough marketers new to mobile have been using cheap attribution tools and are left wanting more. While they initially made the decision based on price, they now realize the TCO of measurement with a proper toolset.

The 1% challenge centers on the thesis that the Kochava service is effectively free if we can make a marketer’s ad budget at a minimum 1% more effective than before using our tools. This is because Kochava essentially costs 1% of a marketer’s media spend — but we charge based on the signals that we receive and the capabilities we enable for marketers. While we typically cost approximately 1%, we consistently see that Kochava delivers 5% to 7% or more in improved efficiency over other tools (and more when no tools were used at all). Delivering a return on investment (ROI) five times greater than Kochava cost in the first month isn’t bad either.

Selecting the Right Product to Support Growth

A marketer, by definition, is one part creative, one part analyst. If there is any person within an organization that should appreciate the value of ROI, it’s the buyer of an attribution tool! While this is true, one must recognize that the maturity of a growth team dictates the needs of the tools they use. For this reason, we have put together various packages that cater to marketers and upper management alike and meet them where they’re at in the maturity curve.

Marketers are not alone in having to select the right tool. Invariably, management or a CFO needs to sign-off on the prevailing toolset. It’s critical that marketers not only understand the power of selecting the right measurement tool — they must also articulate the ROI to the rest of the management team in the context of the economics against media spend.

If you are in a situation where you need to learn because you don’t know what you don’t know — I suggest you use our Free App Analytics. Free App Analytics is a limited feature version of Kochava that is available for free and was specifically created to help emerging marketers learn and upgrade at any time to either our Attribution Analytics package or our Unified Audience Platform (Enterprise Edition). By using Free App Analytics, you can learn and avoid the pitfalls suffered by so many other marketers who selected the cheaper tools they ultimately had to move away from. You don’t have to believe the lie that cheap is your only option.

While Kochava provides the best ROI, I invite you to test our tools and learn what you need with Free App Analytics.

About the Author

Charles Manning is the founder and CEO of Kochava, the leading mobile attribution analytics platform serving tier-one advertisers worldwide. For nearly 20 years, he has been creating technologies that use data for system optimization, ranging from business service management (BSM) to information technology (IT) to attribution analytics. Charles began his career at Oracle and later held executive and C-Level positions at M-Code, Managed Objects, and PLAYXPERT.